Christian politicians' big election issues: religious extremism and a broken economy

Baroness Sherlock.

Christian parliamentarians have warned that extremists are hijacking religion for their own ends, that there is a widening gap between rich and poor, and that the economy is only working for the rich.

Two politicians identified the big issues facing the electorate at an event sponsored by the Fulcrum Anglican evangelical network yesterday.

Held at Westminster's Portcullis House and chaired by Rt Rev Graham Kings, Fulcrum's Pivot Point event featured Labour peer Baroness Sherlock and Conservative Caroline Spelman.

Caroline Spelman.

Though from different ends of the political spectrum, both of them were passionate about the need for Christians to be involved in politics and believe that the input of Christians to national issues is crucial. Countering the impression often given of parliamentary politics as adversarial and antagonistic, both also spoke of the co-operation between different sides and the friendships that developed.

Baroness Sherlock, a former chief executive of the Refugee Council who is Labour's spokesperson for Work and Pensions, said: "You end up working with people you don't want to work with. If you can't compromise, politics is not the game for you." Spelman referred to her friendship with Labour MP Frank Field and the work she had done with him on end-of-life care. "There are issues that transcend party politics," she said.

Reflecting on the contribution of Christians to politics, Sherlock said that the state was "the means by which order is maintained. The Church's role is to ensure that the state serves the vulnerable too. This is not charity: the wellbeing of individuals can't be divided from the wellbeing of those around us. That should underpin all the decisions made by the Government."

She also said that "The Church is called to look both ways: to minister to individuals, but also to pay attention to the values of the culture." Referring to the churches' support for foodbanks and the stories their users told, she said: "There comes a point in your listening when you feel that helping individuals is not enough. Why do they need this help?"

Spelman was called to the Commons for an adjournment debate and her address was read by her assistant. She said that her faith was "the core of my strength in a very difficult job" and her "benchmark for deciding right and wrong".

She said that participation in politics was about more than voting every five years. "Pray that your MPs will make wise choices," she advised the audience, adding: "The most difficult letters I receive are from my fellow-Christians who don't agree with a decision I've taken."

Both parliamentarians were asked to say what they believed were the crucial issues facing the country as the election approached. Sherlock said it was important that society was "organised for the benefit of everyone" and that everyone should be able to earn enough to live on. She also referred to the "disconnect" between society and politicians, saying that political parties needed to reform.

Spelman warned of the "hijacking of religion" for extremist purposes, the need to ensure dignity and the sanctity of life for the aging population, and the need to narrowing the gap between rich and poor.